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Former CIA Officer Arrested After Exposing U.S. Spy Network In China


We're learning new details about the arrest of a former CIA officer whose alleged actions had a deadly ripple effect across the agency. Jerry Chun Shing Lee was a case officer with the CIA for more than 20 years, and late yesterday the Justice Department said it's charged him for illegally keeping national defense secrets. And those secrets reportedly ended up in the hands of the Chinese government and led to the deaths of CIA informants. Adam Goldman of The New York Times broke this story, and he joins us on Skype this morning. Hi, Adam.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Hey. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on and talking about this story. Can you just - I mean, what exactly is this former officer accused of doing, and how did U.S. investigators figure out what they were going to charge him with?

GOLDMAN: Well, the straight charge is he was in possession of classified information that FBI agents had found in a pair of notebooks he had. And in those notebooks were the details of CIA assets in China, the names of covert agency employees, details about meetings. And that information reflected what was in CIA cables, the same cables that Jerry Lee wrote when he was in the agency.

GREENE: And so your reporting suggests that there were deadly consequences here, that this is information that he had, got to the Chinese government and led to the deaths of informants who were basically helping the CIA. Is that right?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Let's just back up for a moment. So in about 2010, late 2010, the CIA started losing informants in China. And it's gained momentum, and they started losing more and more. And then the agency and the FBI realized there might be a mole, and they started focusing on Jerry Lee and he fit what they would say the matrix. And Jerry Lee was living in Hong Kong so he came under intense suspicion.

GREENE: You also wrote that this arrest has intelligence officials particularly concerned because it might be a pattern here of the Chinese targeting former CIA operatives to really crack the U.S. intelligence network? Is that a new thing, and how big a concern would that be?

GOLDMAN: I don't - I think they are more concerned now than they were maybe several years ago. But, you know, the way we - what we've been told is that, look, it's easier to recruit a former CIA officer than a current one. In June of last year, a former CIA officer was charged in Virginia, and there are also been other instances, not necessarily with the CIA, but, a State Department worker was charged last year and a former FBI employee in New York was sentenced to two years in prison last year for his ties with the Chinese. So I mean certainly the Chinese are running an aggressive intelligence program.

GREENE: And what does that mean overall for our national security, would you say?

GOLDMAN: It means we're going to have to get better and we're going to have to figure out ways to outsmart the Chinese, who can throw an enormous amount of resources at this issue. You know, one of the things we don't really hear about are the intelligence failures, and that means when the agency actually loses informants.

GREENE: Which is one reason why your reporting here is so important in letting us know about all of this. Adam Goldman covers national security for The New York Times. He joined us on Skype this morning. Adam, we appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

GOLDMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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